BBC's Threads was the 1980s TV phenomenon that shocked the world. As the threat of nuclear war looms, we need to be reminded again of its dark message…
With the USA, Russia, North Korea all posturing the use of nuclear weapons and chemical attacks being used against civilians, perhaps if world leaders such as Trump, Assad, Putin and Kim Jong-un were forced to watch Threads – the 32-year-old made-for-TV film about the run up to and impact of a nuclear war – the world would be a safer place.
The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw wrote an article on the Trump presidency making the ‘unthinkable thinkable’, stating exactly that. He said “a White House screening of the 1984 drama Threads would make even this president pause for thought”.
While it may seem fantastical that the two-part docu-drama from the ‘80s could change a Super Power leader's mentality, Bradshaw does make a serious point. Perhaps we all need to open our eyes to the horrors a nuclear holocaust poses to our society and the planet. Watching Threads is a start.
“In one act, hundreds of years of human progress is wiped out.”
Threads is a multi BAFTA-winning television movie produced by the BBC in 1984. Created during the heights of the Cold War, it was the first of its kind to show a nuclear apocalypse, and had nearly seven million viewers gripped in Britain alone.
It tells the story of a nuclear strike on Britain in the four weeks that lead up to war, and the decade that follows – all seen through the eyes of two Sheffield families and one couple in particular, as they go about their ordinary lives, excited about their future as parents.
The panic-stricken faces of people running through Sheffield as the warning signals ring. The mushroom cloud looming menacingly above. The collapse of Sheffield Town Hall, trapping people beneath it. Two thirds of homes across the UK destroyed and between 17 and 30 million people killed instantly.
Threads goes further than most films on nuclear destruction in showing us the full scale aftermath of a nuclear winter and its impact on the future of mankind. Burns, radiation sickness, birth defects and cancer complete with a bleak vision of children born into a post-apocalyptic hell. The short-term survivalist instinct kicks in and civilised society as we know it degenerates into a turmoil of violence, looting, rape and murder. In one act, hundreds of years of human progress is wiped out.
It’s no wonder that Bradshaw said the film made him "a shivering wreck for weeks".
There have been countless films and TV shows made about the apocalypse but Threads is widely cited as the most realistic – and terrifying.
Setting Threads in Sheffield, also hits a nerve. We may think it is only the big cities of the Super Powers that could ever face this level of obliteration. But the truth is it could happen to anyone, and anywhere.
BBC's Threads is a horror and a masterpiece. It may be a hard watch, but it is a necessary watch.
Protect and Survive
In the 1970s the British government made a series of information films to guide the population on how to prepare themselves for an impending nuclear attack. These secret films have now been made available. Watch now